Photo Courtesy of Jay Paul, Photographer
Poet, screenwriter, and filmmaker Michele Poulos directed and produced A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet. Poulos is the author of the poetry collection Black Laurel (Iris Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Disturbance in the Air, which won the 2012 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition. Her screenplay, Mule Bone Blues, about Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, won the 2010 Virginia Screenwriting Competition and was a second round finalist in the 2017 Sundance Screenwriters Lab competition. Her poetry and fiction have been published in The Southern Review, Copper Nickel, Smartish Pace, Crab Orchard Review, and many other journals. She has won fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the David Baldacci Foundation. Poulos has taught creative writing courses at Virginia Commonwealth University and Arizona State University, and has been invited for readings and as a guest lecturer at the College of William & Mary, University of Utah, Drew University, Columbus College of Art & Design, and the O Miami Poetry Festival, among other universities and writing conferences. She is currently at work on a feature-length documentary about women’s participation in Mardi Gras.
Prismatics: Larry Levis & Contemporary American Poetry is a collection of the full-length transcriptions of the extended interviews Gregory Donovan and Michele Poulos conducted with a group of America’s most notable poets—including two U.S. Poet Laureates—in making the documentary film A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet. These discussions cover not only their relationships with Levis and his poetry, but also more wide-ranging commentaries on a broad spectrum of American literary life.
Prismatics reflects the multiple angles of perception provided by its fourteen participating poets, including David St. John (who also contributed the foreword), Philip Levine, Charles Wright, Norman Dubie, Gerald Stern, Carolyn Forché, Stanley Plumly, Colleen McElroy, David Wojahn, Carol Muske-Dukes, Kathleen Graber, Peter Everwine, Charles Hanzlicek, and Gail Wronsky. The book’s title points out that Levis’s personal and professional life as a writer provides a prism which leads these discussions to range broadly into a wider portrait of a highly influential era of poets and poetics, personified not only in Levis, but in each of the poets interviewed. In these lively, spontaneous conversations, Prismatics provides an informed and intimate portrait of the risks and triumphs of a life in poetry, a discussion of distinct intellectual, practical, and historical value that’s also emotionally involving—and quite entertaining.
Should some Hollywood biopic ever be inspired by Michele Poulos’ stupendous documentary and these marvelous interviews, the great problem will be finding someone to play the inimitable Larry Levis. These transcriptions double as oral histories, flash memoirs, and spontaneous poetics essays not only about Levis, but about contemporary American poetry in the years spanning his larger-than-life life: 1946-1996. In one interview Carolyn Forché says, “Larry’s poems are suffused with an awareness of human presence.” The same must be said of this rich and spirited collection.
—Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Larry Levis was the genius of our generation; he was the star risen out of a constellation of poets coming from Fresno. In Prismatics, many of our most notable poets offer insightful, personal, and detailed responses to and assessments of Larry’s life and work. Especially touching and salient are the interviews with Philip Levine, Peter Everwine, C.G. Hanzlicek, and David St. John, Fresno poets and friends who knew him best and who knew Larry from the start. They testify to his talent, humanity, and unmatched originality and voice. For lovers of Larry’s poetry, of contemporary poetry, this is an invaluable collection.
—Christopher Buckley, author of A Condition of the Spirit
As I read through the interviews in Prismatics, I found myself pausing in the middle of chapters, rather than between them, so as to savor the feeling of always being immersed in a rich and rewarding conversation. I love the cumulative warmth of this book, of so many poets speaking affectionately and thoughtfully about one of the great American poets of the 20th century—as friend, colleague, lover, co-conspirator, and cynosure. But more than a commemoration of Larry Levis, Prismatics offers meditations on passion, creativity, self-destruction, ambition, and the nature of literary legacy. It’s a book as capacious and complex as the poetry of Levis itself.
—Nicky Beer, author of The Octopus Game and The Diminishing House